The National: I Am Easy to Find review – strangely lacklustre

(4AD)

Twenty years into their career, the National have had a radical rethink for their eighth album. Film-maker Mike Mills has come on board to challenge the way they record, as well as cooking up a complementary but standalone short film of the same name, starring Alicia Vikander, but the bigger change finds frontman Matt Berninger sharing centre stage with – and frequently ceding it to – a string of female co-vocalists, including Sharon Van Etten, longtime Bowie foil Gail Ann Dorsey and Lisa Hannigan.

The resulting songs still sound unmistakably like the National – thoughtful, refined indie with restrained guitars and inventive rhythms, courtesy of drummer Bryan Devendorf – even if they’re at times smothered beneath choirs and strings. Indeed, perhaps the only elements missing from this overegged affair are, crucially, excitement and anything so much as a memorable melody. Elegant song after elegant song wafts past without ever quite succeeding in engaging. It’s not without its moments: Rylan at least possesses some energy, and the standout Not in Kansas is an affecting Berninger stream-of-consciousness set to minimal backing, which could double as an elliptical short story (and in which he references Roberta Flack and Annette Bening, and quotes Lifes Rich Pageant-era REM lyrics, a trick he repeats with Guided By Voices on the title track), before he’s joined by a chorus of Dorsey, Hannigan and This Is the Kit’s Kate Stables. But it’s an all too rare peak on a strangely flat album.

Watch the video for Light Years starring Alicia Vikander.

Contributor

Phil Mongredien

The GuardianTramp

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